The afternoon heat outside bothers no one. As the gathering of the devout listens to hymns in air-conditioned comfort, the English translation of the lyrics appears on two screens placed on either side of Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. The screens are linked to a laptop and a projector.
The scene unfolds at an upscale gurdwara in Chandigarh’s Sector 8, a place frequented by everyone from ordinary people to VIPs to the super-rich in their luxury sedans.
Catering to the needs of the 21st century, gurdwaras in Chandigarh and Punjab are changing to include an element of comfort. Laptops, screens, projectors and wireless microphones are also being used in some of the shrines.
Even though religious traditions are strictly followed at these gurdwaras, the facilities, which used to be basic just a decade ago, have now turned swank.
“Many gurdwaras across Chandigarh are going hi-tech with the purpose of spreading the message of the gurus to a wider population,” Sarabjit Singh, a granthi (Sikh priest) at a gurdwara here, said.
In Chandigarh, the gurdwaras in Sector 8 and Sector 34, two of the biggest ones in the city that get the maximum number of devotees, have taken the lead by installing air-conditioners (ACs) for summer and heaters for the winter.
In the Sector 8 gurdwara, a special projector screen shows everything a granthi is reading from the Sikh holy book.
With the help of a laptop, the Gurmukhi text is translated into English for people of non-Sikh origin and those who do not understand the language, especially youth.
Sikander Singh, the person who translates and projects the text, said: “One of our regular devotees got the idea during a trip abroad where screens were being used to translate the holy book and hymns.”
“We have the software that keeps translating everything that the Granthi reads from the holy book and is projected on the screens. Many youths don’t know Punjabi,” he said.
The new systems are also attracting more people for the prayers.
“One of my friends’ visits the gurdwara just because the translation makes things easier for her to understand. Also, I see many youngsters who have started coming regularly,” Surinder Kaur, a senior citizen and Sector 8 resident, said.
“At times, when I go on leave, young boys start calling me and asking me to come back because they miss the translations,” Sikander Singh said.
The Sector 34 gurdwara also had the translation system in place until some time ago.
“When the system was in place, many students living as paying guests would come and attend the prayers. The number has gone down significantly,” Gurdyal Singh, a volunteer at the gurdwara, admitted.
The shrine now has an LCD screen installed at the entrance of the main hall which displays a daily message from the holy book.
In some gurdwaras, the traditional ‘langar’ (community kitchen) has also undergone a change.
“Earlier, people used to sit down on jute mats on the floor to partake langar. Now, the organisers prefer buffet-style langar where vegetarian food is served by a caterer like at a wedding or social occasion,” gurdwara volunteer Gurpreet Singh said.
For the comfort of the elderly and those with knee problems, most gurdwaras have put up chairs and sofas in the main shrine hall.
Harmandar Sahib, the holiest of Sikh shrines popularly known as the Golden Temple, in Amritsar also had air conditioning installed in May 2008. Though initially there was opposition to the move by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages gurdwaras across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, the air conditioners have been embraced by devotees inside the all-gold sanctum sanctorum since.